I ran track and played basketball at the University of Florida from 1963 thru1970. The following is my perception of the following experiences. There are many hidden and many, hoped for, forgotten tales to be told by the fraternity of athletes that have walked the campus of the University of Florida. I hope that those Gators, that enter this great website, find the energy and inclination to tell their tales. I can’t wait to read some of them.
When one hears the term Track and Field, images of Jesse Owens in the 1936 Olympics showing up Hitler’s supreme race, Roger Bannister breaking the four minute mile barrier, or Jim Thorpe winning the 1912 decathlon pop into one’s mind. One would never think of self skewering, dialing for friends, jail time for murder, beer bowling, or see if you can find the hidden shot put. Let me explain.
Let’s start with “jail time for murder/assault with a deadly? weapon.” As any kid, I developed life interests based on my Dad’s influence, publications that I read, and activities that I became involved in, and activities that my teachers pushed me into. I was identified early on as a good athlete. My junior high school teachers/coaches were drooling over me and wanted me to play football, baseball, basketball, and track. I obliged them all and played all 4 sports. What they didn’t know is that I had a small nuclear engine of awesome power within my athletic frame. That engine consisted of shyness and my wish to be able to talk to girls. I figured if I am good at sports they will talk to me and thus my athletic career got off to a great start as there were ample amounts of dedication and passion, all created by my sex drive. Somewhere I read a book about Parry Obrien, the first 60’ shot putter. He so dominated the event that his style became known as the Parry Obrien style that all shot putters had to emulate to be successful. Kind of like the Fosbury Flop, popularized years later as a unique form of high jumping that now dominates the event. Sadly, the Obrien style has succumbed to the spin technique of shot putting and is no more. None of this has anything to do with “jail time for murder” except that it relates to how much time I spent throwing the shot put and becoming fairly good at it. I went on to set the state of Florida shot put record of 60’and a half inch. This stood for a number of years and I had no business setting this record as I maxed out at about 190lbs and was also the state decathlon record holder and was going to the University of Florida on a basketball scholarship. A far cry from the typical shot putter consisting of some football lineman being a weight lifter and hovering around 230lbs plus.
I began my college athletic career playing basketball for Norm Sloan which, again, has nothing to do with “jail time for murder.” Sloan allowed me to run track after the basketball season and track was absolutely my first love. I excelled at most of the activities that I chose to compete in. I wish I could say the same for my basketball skills. Sure I averaged 26 points per game one year in high school and was recruited by over 20 schools but I couldn’t dribble worth a lick. I could shoot from the second row of seats and rebound with the best but please, and I mean, please don’t ask me to dribble the basketball. At 6’3” I was a really short forward and guard was out of the question because of a genetic disorder that I inherited, small hands, and lack of confidence in dribbling resulted in two or three dribbles and a 25’ jump shot. Sooo when basketball season was over I could return to my first love, track and field.
If one thinks about it, playing basketball from September to March doesn’t contribute to success in shot putting. To play “catch up” I would, some days, do two a day weight workouts to try and make up for 7 months of “B” balling it. March was a “turn on” time for me as now I could excel at athletic activities where small hands were not an issue.
I was primarily a “weight man” competing at the university level. Shot put, discus, and javelin. At the end of my “stunted track season” March to the end of May it was time to go home for the summer. Summer employment, usually construction laborer, and then back into the next basketball season which left me little time for training in track events. In 1966 my track coach, Jimmy Carnes, contributed greatly to my athletic endeavors. Of course Coach Carnes knew me in high school, as he recruited me, and my best high school friend Frank Saier, to come to Furman University to run track and play some B ball, but Norman Sloan, the basketball coach at Florida, had an edge on Coach Carnes. Sloan had me attend a summer basketball camp in Jacksonville, along with a number of other high school recruits, 5 who signed with the U of F, , my junior year in high school and I was snowed by Sloan’s sly and cunning demeanor. Being snowed I signed with the U of F to play basketball. Luckily for me and my best high school friend Frank Saier, the first 7’ high jumper in the southeast, Jimmy Carnes took the U of F track coaching job and brought his prized recruit, Frank Saier, with him.
One of the benefits of being a weight man was that you didn’t have to worry about your body weight. You could eat anything you wanted at anytime. I really felt sorry for the high jumpers. They had to constantly monitor their weight. More weight on me meant the potential for more distance in my events more weight on the high jumpers, I think you can figure it out.. Now for the shortcoming. I had to carry those three implements, shot, discus, and javelin, with me prior to away track meets. Consequently, they often times, wound up in my room on the second floor of a three story dormitory in Murphree Area. Our dorm had the unique distinction of having a flat roof with an access ladder that one of the football players had figured out how to open. There was a four foot wall around the area so no one, like a dorm advisor or dean, could see you. Now this was a wonderful asset to our dorm as you could enter the roof and catch a tan. All of the other parts of our dorm wing had an A shaped roof, not very conducive to sunbathing. Some enterprising individual, probably a football player, had even managed to carry a park bench, with concrete ends and 2X4 slats, onto the roof. This was a student/jock oasis in the world of university rules and regulations. This was like that old tree house that you had constructed as a kid except, instead of a tree, you had a finally engineered concrete structure with a 4 foot privacy wall 4 stories above ground level.
Well, one evening, prior to leaving for an away track meet and harboring a weight man’s assortment of implements in my room and lying in my bed, pondering my future and which campus coed I was going to ask out next for a possible, I dare say, soda, an idea popped into my head.
There is a joke, demeaning those with southern accents and the stars and bars tattooed on their arms and proudly displayed on their license plates of their 4-wheel drive vehicles. It goes like this, the joke is told and set up and the punch line is, “Hey Goober watch this.” Well this Goober thought it a great idea to see what would happen if a 16lb steel shot put was dropped from the top of a 4 story structure and what would happen when it makes an impact with the concrete below. Whoever the architect was for our Murphree area dorms it seemed that where ever there was an arch way thru the dorms there was a flat roof with a 4 foot wall around it. Perfect for conducting my experiment. I ambled up to the ladder and, carefully carrying my 16lb implement cradled in my arm, I ascended the ladder and appeared into an area void of any football players sunning themselves, it was about 6pm at night, and I then ventured to the wall overlooking the archway.
Overwhelmed with curiosity, as to what was going to happen when the 16lb ball, falling from 4 stories high, made contact with the concrete of the sidewalk, I surveyed the impact area below. Not being physics major or having, at this point in my life, any training in structuring a “scientific” experiment I completely ignored a few parameters and test protocols like what would happen if someone would walk out thru the archway while this “test” was being conducted.
It was a quiet evening and the assorted sounds of business from the College Inn and a few other Mom and Pop businesses across the street filled the air. I launched the 16lb steel ball from the building and watched it arch toward the concrete below. Also below, much to my Goober surprise, a student walked out from under the archway heading for some business establishment across the street. The shot put missed him by about a foot and hit the concrete just behind him. I remember ducking back within the confines of the concrete walls of the roof and thinking how close I came to spending some time behind much higher walls. I then peeked over the edge of the wall and observed the student looking, curiously above, and then continuing on to his evening’s destination. Obviously, there is not a big market for discarded shot puts as it remained there for my retrieval. I quickly ventured to the scene of the termination of the experiment which, had the worst happened, would have made my decision making for determining my future very simple. My observation of the conclusion of my test was that there was a little pulverized powder from concrete on the steel ball and that concrete is tougher and harder than I thought. Today I would love to talk with the student that was just minding his own business when out of the sky comes “Goober’s comet.” So after all these years I finally prepared and wrote above, my “study,” to be submitted to my professors of the school of engineering, if I ever chose to get a degree in that profession.
We might as well stay with the shot put to its conclusion before moving into the next implement arena. The aforementioned story was the first person I almost hit with the shot put. There is another who I did hit but, lucky for him, it was in high school and the shot put only weighed 12lbs. I, using the Parry Obrien technique, back to the direction of the throw, was preparing to launch a practice throw. Don’t ask me about the confusing semantics of shot putting. You “put the shot,” which is actually a push, then commence to complete a throw rather than a put. Somewhere between the launching of the steel orb which is a “put/push” and when it lands, a “throw” the action changes names?? Kind of like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly. Two of my teammates were leaning against a fence to the side of the shot put landing area, engaged in dialogue. I looked at the landing area of my practice throw, cradling the shot in my non throwing/putting/pushing hand, someone needs to get shot putting semantics standardized. Focusing visually, and mentally creating an image in my mind of my form, I journeyed the 7 feet to the back of the circle, cradled the ball in my throwing/putting/pushing, whatever the hell it is, hand and proceeded to begin the launch using the best technique that I could conjure up. As the shot flew from my release I suddenly realized that one of my teammates, who had been talking with another teammate against the fence, had decided to move into the area of my practice throw on his way to some important destination.. Had I tried in 200 attempts I would not have been more accurate in hitting my teammate in his left knee. After surgery, and no law suits, Mickey Moncheck was fine and, luckily for me, the statue of limitations had long expired on assault with a blunt force object as he is today a local prominent personal injury attorney. To this day I am still careful when answering my phone.
There is one last tale to tell. No one is hurt nor could criminal charges be levied in regards to the improper use of the 16lb shot put. There may be grounds for theft or detrimental activities contributing to local health issues. This is another “Goober” tale. It was the end of our track season and we returned to Gainesville, in the early evening, and to celebrate the end of our strict discipline of training and avoidance of anything detrimental to our performances over the season we decided to stop by Gatorland. Gatorland was a local beer dispensary that promoted excellence in beer drinking and anyone willing to pay .25 cents for a beer was invited to partake in the activity. We, my teammates in the rental car and I, decided to “get up to date” with our absence of “detrimental activities to athleticism.” We arrived about 11:00pm so we had two hours, the bar closed at 1:00am,” to makeup for three months of abstinence and strict athletic training. As the short evening of libation activities progressed, the conversation wrapped around our season and what we were going to do with our summers. Not wanting the evening to end on such an administrative tone I, Goober, came up with a “brilliant” idea. “Hey”, I said, “anyone want to go bowling?” Needless to say, my teammates were curious about my idea so I offered to show them. As the doors to our brain cell killing activities closed behind us
I went to our car and retrieved my 16lb, the same weight as a bowling ball, shot put from the trunk of our car.
At 1:02am in the morning there is not much traffic on NW 13th Street which easily converted into a bowling alley with a little help from my imagination and a big help from some barley and hops. Performing like a clown and an imbecile for my teammates, of course they were into the imbecile zone also because of the barley and hops, I prepared my show. Like the Goober joke goes, as I took my position in the middle of the 4 lane highway posturing the steel orb, like a bowling ball, in my hands, I said, “Hey watch this.” I performed a perfect approach to the “alley” aiming for the imaginary pins down the lane/NW 13th Street and rolled the shot put like a bowling ball. It was about 5 seconds later that I observed that the road had a meaningful camber to it and the “bowling ball” was sliding to the left side of the road heading for the curb. It was then, that my few functioning neurons, made me aware of the fact there were sewer culverts along side the road built into the curb. I then estimated the path of the University of Florida’s property, the shot put, with what few brain cells that I had that were still functioning and efficient and I saw that the sewer culvert was going to be the last that I would ever see of this particular shot put. Being a very dense sphere of 16lb I am sure the shot put, to this day, resides in that sewer system. Years later I had dinner with my old track coach Jimmy Carnes and chided him for not being very good at keeping track equipment inventoried as he obviously was missing one lost shot put.
Most shot put landing areas are of clay or some compacted earth that makes it easy for the officials to mark the exact distance of the throw/put/whatever. We were at a big meet at the University of Tennessee and it had been raining for weeks. Not really, but what is wrong with a tad bit of embellishment. NO doubt it had been raining. Warming up from the shot put ring the competitors launched their “orbs of competition” out onto the landing area which, because of the rain, was almost a pool of mud. When one launched a throw one would not hear the usual “thumb” of a 16lb steel ball hitting compacted earth but rather, something like the sound that you may, conjure up, of a 16lb steel ball hitting a giant pool of goop. I’ll try here, utilizing the 26 letters of the English alphabet, to put into words the sound; FARSUP-PLUC-KLOP. I’m sorry but that is the best that I can do utilizing our limited 26 letter alphabet. The shot put would, literally, disappear from sight and one had to keep an eye on exactly where it entered the earth in order to not lose it. Then, one had to feel in the mud for the hard metal sphere.
Every competitor was performing under the same conditions. With only limited towel/rag support it was virtually impossible to get the shot-put devoid of any dirt that would act as a lubricant and thus reduce the efficiency of the putting/throwing/what ever the hell one does as one launches the steel orb. One had to get the shot as clean as possible of any material that would come between the palm of the hand of the putter and the shot. A perfectly prepared shot for launch would have a little bit of stickiness due to the almost evaporated saliva that one had put, moments ago, on one’s putting/throwing hand. Needless to say, not one competitor that day had a good and properly prepared shot for a maximum performance. I think everyone was able to find their shot puts from the mud pool and return home with crummy performances and a dirty shot.
Next up is self skewering. The javelin is part of the decathlon, of which I participated, and somewhere in my early college athletic life I was introduced to this implement and I immediately took to throwing it, one definitely does not “put” it so the nomenclature is very clear. It was a cool device to “hurl” thru the air. It would travel much farther than a shot put or discus and its air time was, obviously longer, so one could admire the results of his efforts for a while longer. Upon release it would arch skyward seeking altitude and at times it would wiggle its tail slightly which indicated you had the right number of revolutions per minute to stabilize it in flight.
Borrowing a javelin from the athletic department and carrying it to meets meant that, for short periods of time, I had unsupervised control over this device and its use. J.R. Leach, a shot putter and country boy if my memory is correct, one day suggests, “Hey Harry lets get us some gators with the javelin.” For a fleeting moment I thought, Yeah,” but then some images of “Goober” popped up in my head and I wisely turned down the suggestion. I just could not see me spearing a gator with the javelin, getting caught, and then trying to explain what I had been doing. Now spearing a gator would have been easy had I accurately directed the javelin and made contact with the creature as the point is rather pointed. It is a little known fact, outside the javelin fraternity, that the tail of the javelin is many times sharper and thinner than the point. If you ever happen to appear on Jeopardy and the category is “Which End is Sharpest” and Javelin appears you would prepare your answer in the form of a question and say, “What is the tail.?
Part of the warm-up process for preparing for the javelin event is to do an approach in an open grassy area, like the center of the track oval surrounded by stands and a smattering of friends and fraternity brothers, release the javelin in a low trajectory and make impact with the ground about 20 yds distant. This would coordinate all motor movements with the exception of the proper elevation for launch. The spear would stick into the turf with the tail slightly higher than, say, my waist. Well, one meet, as I was going thru this warm-up procedure and as I was trotting to retrieve my spear I heard, “Hey Harry” from the stands. I turned my head, as I continued my approach to retrieve my shaft, to survey the crowd to see who my admirer was. Two or three strides later I suddenly got a “warning” “warning” signal from some area of my brain. I turned and, had it not been for my long javelin spikes on my shoes, was able to stop one stride short of skewering myself with the tail end of the spear. One more stride, and my weight and momentum, would have, surely, resulted in the tail of the shaft entering my abdomen and more than likely penetrating my liver and exiting out of my back. If that had happened today with Youtube you could probably enter in the search window, “self impalement” and got 4 or 5 cell phone videos of some “goober” doing something stupid.
Besides “self-impalement” I found another use for the tail of my javelin. My momma didn’t raise no stupid boy here. Once again I had the implement in my dorm room, leaving the next day for an away meet. Being on the basketball team meant that Norm Sloan, the Darth Vader of coaches” would occasionally check on his players in the off season to see if they were studying etc during the evening hours. My roommate was Gary Keller, a tall and lanky B-ball player who exemplifies the coined term, “Pond Birds.” Keller, being one of the standout players, meant that Sloan would definitely check on his/our evening activities. For me, I had been given permission to run track, but was, none the less, a member of the basketball team and subject to a room inspection.
We lived on the second floor of a three floor dormitory with an interior rail
ing paralleling the stairwell. I decided to call some girlfriend and while sitting on the stairwell railing, about 5 feet from the phone, proceeded to dial a number utilizing the tail end of the javelin to reach the dialing mechanism. In the middle of my dialing, I heard the dormitory door below open and close and footsteps. Who should appear from the stairwell but “Stormin Norman.” I was so surprised that I kind of froze in the middle of my dialing for a date. Coach Sloan just looked at me for a moment, ducked under the javelin, which was being supported by my right shoulder and the dialing mechanism of the telephone, and calmly walked into our room to check on Keller. I think I completed my dialing and got the date but I don’t remember much after that. It is amazing, utilizing over 100,000 years of evolution, what the human brain can do with simple tools.
I was a witness to a personal skewering, utilizing the javelin, and assisted in the first aid to the unfortunate skew-e. I was a graduate assistant in track during my graduate school days and one of my duties was to do some coaching. It is amazing the number of frat boys that seem to be completely enamored with wanting to throw the javelin. Coaching the javelin was one of my jobs so I got to evaluate the “walk on wanna be’s” who might possibly make the team as a javelin thrower. Before going any further let me say that none of the prospective javelin throwers ever showed any signs of talent or potential and they all failed the tryout for the event. One of these “future Olympians,” would show up about every two weeks or so.
One day, at the track, a prospect walked up to me and introduced himself and asked for a tryout. Before going on here I need to explain how a javelin is handled in various social situations. It, being about 8’ long, is like a long walking stick. In a social situation, the possessor of a javelin, would very appropriately and eloquently, hold the javelin in an upright position, tip to the ground and the tail to the sky, and calmly poke the tip into the ground in order to free up his or her hands for making gestures in the engaging dialogue that might take place. This poor sole, funny I should use that word, as you will see, happened to be in his bare feet. As he started to introduce himself and plant the javelin into the ground he accidently planted the tip of the javelin right into the top of his right foot. I’ll never forget his screams of anguish as he immediately pulled the javelin from his foot and collapsed onto the infield. I remember wrapping his foot with a towel full of ice and held in place with a large ace bandage. I put him in the back seat of my Ford Galaxy with his foot elevated over the front seat on the way to the university infirmary. Trying to make small talk, between his groans of pain and anguish, I asked him if he had ROTC drill this semester. He replied in the affirmative. I replied, “I think you are excused from ROTC drill for the rest of this semester.
I kind of wish I had been young twice the normal number of years that youth encompasses. Imagine the tales I could tell, but then, would I have ever survived?
I came down to G-Ville Dec 1975 when Brooks Johnson was sprint coach with Jimmy Carnes
I was attending San Diego State Univ where I had a "testy' relationship with the athletic department because I stopped running for the school , The NCAA at that time was at war with me because I was making $$$ in Europe & told everyone that the NCAA was exploiting all scholastic athletes ..
.I came to G-vill to train in peace, I am from the Bronx and back then living in the South was scary .
Jimmy C was the first Southern gentleman I met,, I lived at the" Day's Inn Motel" trained until 1976, after getting injured at the US trials. I returned to SDSU got my degree and moved to Oakland after the 1977 Word Cup Brooks took the Staford Univ Head coach job in1980 , .
My G-vill days were great , I would come back and forth in 77-80 to train 2 months a year . I lived with James Pringle in his house and we had a ball. I rented a small Apt from one of the Alumni for $50 a month until Brooks left...The best part of T&F is the "people memories" in G-ville there are many great ones !
Great shoes! Very thin and from Kangaroo skin, if I remember correctly. Used only for meets and time trials. Remember the days when air temperature was 95-105 degrees and track temperatures were 110+?Wow! I can remember days when it was so hot on the synthetic asphalt mixture track,that my feet were blistered in-between the 3 or four races of competition. I would actually "peel" the thin layer shoe off with sometimes skin.Soak in cold water,Vaseline,sometimes band aides in-between each race.Those of you who competed on those "earlier good deal experimental all-weather tracks" were painful to our feet! Until they were perfected we all suffered even with good fast times coming of age. UT had the first Tartan Track installed in '66 so we could run the SEC Championships on it in '67. I can remember the first race in qualifying to semi's how quiet this track is! So, quiet that I almost didn't hear the 2 guys coming up on me @ finish line.Still first in my heat , but @ finals I went out fast and front on the way until Kelly UT caught me at the line(couldn't hear-too soft).but, I beat Kelly at AAC vs SEC Champioships before we went to Nationals in Provo,Utah.Kelly was 3 Rd and I didn't make finals but time wise in semis I was 9th. As a team Morton,Saier,Hager were All-American and the team did well as expected. That's it for now. I have a funny adventure story after the NCAA in Provo when seven of us left Provo to compete in Bakersfield, Calif. via Las Vegas/ Los Angeles. Until next week. Keep on tracking, because the "Hawk IS Watching"
1963-1964. Coach Percy Beard. I didnt have a scholarship but wanted to run 440yd dash, since I placed 5th FHSAS State Championship and won all my meets in HS. It was a cool rainy afternoon in my 3rd week in school.I started working out @the old cinder track on the south end of (now Florida Field with stadium capacity) runnig interval 220's and couple of 660's. For about 20 min. I noticed this tall older man with wide brim hat watching me run , standing under the PEHlth downstairs entrance to the track.Didn't think much at time and didn't know there was another track(present location).He walked toasted me at the end of my workout and waited,After the hour work out he came over and introduced himself as Coach Percy Beard as the Head Coach Track and Field. Had no idea who this man was and how famous he was in the track and field world. He asked my name and if I was running XC. Cross-Country I asked? What was that? Since I haven't run anything over
I walked onto the UF track team in 1964, when Frank Beard was in his last year as head coach; he seemed already gone as far as interest in coaching us.
My sophomore year, 1964-65, Jimmy Carnes appeared. He turned the track program around like Steve Spurrier did in football.
I barely made the team, but there were a lot of us like that, and a lot who were outstanding on our team but not much when it came to competing with the track powerhouses. Truth is, all of this talk about track and our exploits teases me back into that old competitive frame of mind that I've worked to abandon, retire or divorce, especially now that I'm nearing retirement and thinking more about peace of mind. For me, running, like singing, was a pleasure and discipline that helped me as a human being, but my achievements were personal, not records. I ran 6 years in HS and at UF and never won a race. I improved my 440 time by two seconds every year except for my last (junior year at UF) when I realized I had peaked but still was not competitive. I probably would have ranked in the top 99.95 percentile of the population or UF students, but that didn't translate to track team accomplishment.
Those of you who were champions, clearly feel different about your experience, and you did have an enviable position. It is glorious to win, but looking back 45 years later, I imagine it is seen from a different perspective. Let's say it is a metaphor. It's about the struggle and the process. I still run (if you can call it that when I'm now at top speed less than half as fast as I was 45 years ago), but I love that I run and hope to run for my life-time. I'm proud that I was on the UF team and lettered my junior year. I still treasure my "F" letter sweater in my closet, and I'm honored to have been on Jimmy Carnes' team.
My favorite track memory is that at the beginning of my sophomore year, Jimmy asked each of us to create a personal goal. I committed to dropping 2 seconds from my best time as a freshman, which was 52", so my goal was to break 50". At our last meet of the year, I came in 4th (out of the money). I was surprised to have Coach Carnes walk up to me and flash the stop watch in my face: 49.9". That is my highlight reel for what a wonderful coach Jimmy was, and I've shared it with many people over the last 45 years. It made me feel blessed to have been on his team and under his leadership. Not only did he remember what my goal was, but he timed me, and showed it to me, because he celebrated that I achieved my goal. Obviously 49.9" was not a major accomplishment in the 440 yard dash in 1964, but Coach Carnes had wonderful gifts of integrity and inspiration. His recognizing me face to face, with pleasure and pride on his face, helped me achieve peace of mind and to realize that accomplishing the goal I had set for myself with him as witness was important, worthy, and should be celebrated.
Most of you who have spoken up here were among those who excelled in track and field, and I admire your talent and achievements. I enjoyed seeing you and the athletes we ran against run, jump, vault and throw. There is a beauty and grace to track and we excelled. You probably did not realize how most of your teammates were marginalized by the way the team spirit was not always so supportive of those of us who finished with the pack or at the back of the pack. As we used to say, a monkey jumped on our back somewhere on the back curve of the 440, and for some of us it was a big monkey (maybe gorilla?). I worked hard but had marginal talent, and that big primate was always there for me.
Coach Carnes did not marginalize us. He coached us up, and he treated everyone fairly and with respect. I recall Coach Carnes giving me two batons to run with to improve my running technique, especially arm movement. It was the first time in my life as a runner that a coach suggested anything to try to help me improve other than telling me to run faster. He was my first real track coach. (I had a very good high school football coach who doubled as our track coach, but he didn't know or care about track. We did not have track practices; I worked out on my own at home on the side of the highway.)
Coach Carnes designed programatic workouts for us; if I remember correctly he introduced us to interval training, which, to this day, fits in the same domain as bamboo-splinters-under-the-fingernails torture. He loved dual meets and met with us as a team before each meet and presented his plan for how we were going to win.
I also recall an intrasquad meet he held one rainy spring Saturday. After the mile relay, he gave us an animated diatribe about our lack of enthusiasm and commitment because some of us were trying harder to get out of the rain that participate in the meet. He signaled to us very early what his commitment was, and he set the standard.
Speaking of bamboo splinters, this was the early Vietnam War era, but before any demonstations and antiwar sentiment. ROTC was mandatory for all freshmen and sophomores, but the major pain was drill. One of the benefits of running track was that we were excused from drill.
In one of our early meets with Jimmy--I think it was against Southern Illinois--Ray Graves brought the entire football team and sat them in the bleachers on the east side of the stadium to watch our meet. I've always wondered if Steve Spurrier was there watching me run. I didn't make him very proud.
I introduced Jimmy to CLO, and he used it as a partial scholarship house for his track team. Over the years many track team members lived there, including Andy Gramlich (65-68), Austin Funk, Rodney Walker, Tom Henderson, Curtis Westphal, Tom Bolig, Mike Cotton, Grover Howard, Will Freeman, Steve Gomez, Tom Doerr, and even some of the girls, including Kristi Stovall. There were probably others, but that's all I know. If you know any I've left out, please let me know.
I still remember my last meeting with Coach Carnes when he called each of the team in for a meeting. Before he said anything, I told him that I was quitting the team. It was very emotional for me. Still the word quit is a bad word for me, but that was a good decision and I should probably call that a graduation from track. I was not going to improve any more as a runner. I had given it my best, and it was time to hang up the cleats and move on to other things.
I focused on academics, majored in chemistry and left UF in 1968 and went to Chicago where I earned a PhD in biochemistry. From there my life has continued with a lot of struggle and evolution. I switched careers to journalism and in 1992 started my own business. Everything I did in life contributed to this final project, my business Newswise. Looking back, it's clear to me that the major accomplishment of my life is the family of four children I've helped to create and raise. I went through a divorce and am happily and well married since 1990.
Years later, in 1980, I again crossed paths with Jimmy when, as the Olympic Track and Field Coach, he was the featured speaker at the President's Council on Physical Fitness Banquet in Washington, DC, to which I was invited as a reporter. I was so proud of him.
Then in 2008 I joined him for lunch in Gainesville. We recalled our time together, and I reminded him of his timing me in the 440 at 49.9" and thanked him for what he had meant to me. Towards the end of lunch I asked him about his feelings about his fellow Georgian Jimmy Carter, who as President had cancelled USA participation in the Moscow Olympics in 1980 and thereby swept away one of Coach Carnes' legacy honors as Olympic track coach. Jimmy explained with complete sincerity that he held no grudge against Carter. He explained that his life had turned out ok. I admire, envy and love him for his grace.
In the summer of 1968, Ron Coleman became the first black student-athlete to be awarded an athletic scholarship at the University of Florida. A little known part of that story is another student-athlete from West Palm Beach named Johnnie Brown. Johnnie was not only enrolled at UF and staying in the same dormitory as Ron, they were roommates during their first two years at UF. Although Johnnie was not on scholarship, as a cross-country runner, he was the first black student-athlete to ever compete for UF, two months before Ron competed on the track.
43 years ago, American history will tell you that our nation was experiencing a tumultuous tidal wave of social change that swept across all of America. It was a period in America that is commonly referred to as the Civil Rights movement. While it was a movement that influenced politics and socio-economics on a large scale, the individual stories were many and varied. Ron Coleman’s story parallels the stories of many others, not only at UF, but on campuses large and small throughout the expanse of this great nation. It begins with a boy or girl longing to attend college after graduating from high school in June of 1968, but not having the wherewithal to do so. It didn’t matter very much to that boy or girl whether they were the first, second, third, or 1000th black student-athlete to receive a scholarship. What did matter however, in every one of these stories, was that he or she would be going to college. In Ron’s case, along came Coach Jimmy Carnes and Athletic Director Ray Graves to make that college dream come true.
The sad part of the story is that it obviously also mattered very much to those who spewed hatred and bigotry. One of Ron’s letters of congratulations would say: “Dear Nigger, Prepare to die. You will never make it to Gainesville.” That was one of the many hate-filled diatribes suffered by a young man who simply wanted to go to college. Needless to say, those days were very challenging.
Coach Jimmy Carnes proved to be true to his word. In a very unique way, he too was a pioneer in the civil rights movement. He dared to defy the critics and naysayers, including the Florida legislature, by signing a black athlete to compete for the Gators. Courageous, defiant, carefree, and nurturing…academics always before athletics – that was always his mantra. Although there were still those among the various athletic squads who would rather not see Blacks lined up beside them on the same field of play, there were many unlikely allies among the white student-athletes who held no prejudice and who also helped to smooth the way for future athletes to come. Jack Youngblood stands out among them in Ron’s memory as one of those allies, because it seems he saved Ron from a terrible predicament, simply by being himself. As a scholarship athlete Ron would eat at the athletic training table and would often be left to eat all alone. Jack single-handedly changed that by simply inviting him over to his table or by sitting with him.
In 1969, Willie Jackson and Leonard George were the first Black student-athletes to set foot on the gridiron. They too were courageous, because not only were they potentially human tackling dummies, they invaded the last vestige of that “good old boy” spirit…Gator Football. Nat Moore came along shortly afterwards, and was the first true black gridiron superstar.
Pioneering is not all it’s cracked up to be, especially when you’re staring down the barrel of a rifle in a small restaurant outside of Tuscaloosa, Alabama. As relived by Ron Coleman, “The man told me ‘we don’t serve nigras in this here restrant,’ and I said to him while walking backwards and praying at the same time, ‘that’s okay, I don’t like nigras that much anyway.’ My teammates and I quickly left, fearing for our lives, well, mine for sure.”
Of course it was not all bad. As a matter of fact, the positives far outnumbered the negatives. But in the long run, all of those kinds of experiences, positive and negative, served to help in laying the framework for what this campus has come to represent: a proud Association of Black Alumni and a conglomerate of humanity representing unprecedented diversity and accomplishments in the academic and athletic arenas. Since retiring from a 23-year career as a Navy Pilot, Ron enjoys giving back to the institution that played such a pivotal role in his life by serving on the Alumni Association Board of Directors, the Gator Boosters Board of Directors, and the F Club Committee (Letterwinners organization). He said “The Gator Nation… I am proud as ever to be a part of the legacy. God Bless the USA and GO GATORS!!”
I was an assistant track coach under Coach Carnes (1968-1969). I ran for UF in 1963 and 1964. Johnny Brown "Go Johnny Go" was from West Palm Beach. He had some
grade trouble at IF and became draft eligible when he dropped out for a semester to catch his breath. (this is not the NFL Draft, but a much bigger draft, the US Army.) I believe he was sent to
Vietnam. He would drop by or call me occasionally when he would come home to see his mother. I assume she is now deceased, and the last I heard Johnny was in Houston Texas.
Benny Vaughn was also in that group of great athletes who broke the color barrier at the University of Florida. You could not have gotten a better group of fellows for what was
a thankless task. They could not date because there were no black women at UF in those days. they all could have gone up north or to Florida A&M and been studs at what ever
they wanted to do. they choose UF and it became a better school as a result. when we had the reunion just before Coach Carnes passed away, Ron Coleman and Benny Vaughn
both attended. I believe Benny presented a plaque to Coach Carnes thanking him for breaking the color barrier at UF..
the sec meet was going on at the same time as the reunion and Ron and Ben went down on the track and were not recognized by any of the current athletes. I tried to tell as many people as I
could, but I kind of blend into the crowd myself these days. while these guys are still available we should have a recognition ceremony at the Florida Relays for them. or better still at teh halftime of a florida football game in front olf 100,0p00 people. I can locate Johnny Brown and we can get all of them together again.
my father was a sargeant in the US Air Force. We moved every three years to a new town and a new school. the air force was integrated from its inception in 1948. IF we lived in
the south, the schools were segregated in town, but not on the base. I never gave it a second thought as I was growing up. I graduated from high school in Salina Kansas and
went to Kansas State for my freshman and sophomore years. my father retired to his family's home town of Panama City, Florida and I be came an out of state student in Kansas. My scholarship would not pay the out of state tuition so I came to UF. I sent a letter to Florida A&M to see if I could go to school there, (I was unaware it was an all black school). Along the way I had to get a junior college degree to keep my eligibility so I did that at Gulf Coast Junior College. What is the point of all this?
At the Florida Relays in 1964 one of then northern schools had a black sprinter and he was tearing up the time trials on his way to the finals in the 100 YARD dash. a white boy from Mississippi
State had been running very well also and the two of them, drew lanes side by side in the final. the fellow from Mississippi State scratched and wen t home. I went over to him and asked him
why he had scratched. He simply told me that if his picture appeared in the newspaper next to a black man running a race, his parents house would be burnt to the ground. he said he did not care if the guy was purple, he would run against him, but he could not risk his parents home. Nuff said.
I try to not let the truth get in the way of a good story so if the facts are a little different, now you know why. al hoffman
THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY
By Tom Doerr
Florida Track 1973-1976
1976 was an historic year for the Gator Track & Field program. For a brief time, it could have possibly been better. This is a brief story of a future star who wanted to become a Gator sprinter.
A super sprinter from tiny Baker High School in Florida’s panhandle named Houston McTear set the track world a buzz in 1975, when he ran the 100 yard dash in 9.0, breaking the world record of 9.1. Unfortunately, the record was never recognized because it was hand-timed.
Coach Carnes and Coach Johnson wanted Houston to matriculate to UF and become a Gator. McTear was interested. The problem would be to overcome McTear’s grades and test scores, which were poor, but not surprising considering the impoverished area in which he lived. Both coaches put together a group of academic advisors and tutors to bring McTear up to speed to meet UF academics and athletic eligibility. For a while, it looked like plan would work. In the end time ran out and McTear could not get his grades and test scores to where they needed to be.
The 9.0 100 yard dash in 1975 was not fluke. Houston McTear went on to make the 1976 and 1980 Olympic teams only to get injured right before Montreal and the U.S. boycott of the Moscow Games denied him the opportunity to compete on the Olympic stage.
Imagine what it would have been like with Steve Williams, Stanley Harris, Michael Sharpe and Houston McTear on the same track everyday?
The track surface probably would need more frequent resurfacing.
The legend of Jimmy Carnes preceded him where ever he went and with whomever he met. You can imagine the shock I felt when as a 17 year old high school hurdler I picked up the phone one night to hear a voice say. “Well hello there … My name is Jimmy Carnes and I want to invite you to come run track at the University of Florida”.
Why did I get that call? You see I was not even the best athlete on my team. We had the primer distance runner in the America who had already won nine (9) State titles and achieved national status. Clif Betts was the brother of Gator track star Frank Betts and was headed to stardom himself. Coach Carnes had already offered him a “full ride”. Besides him we also had the State Champions in the Pole Vault and Discus events as well as a host of the best sprinters south of Hanes City. As matter of fact, I might have been the number two hurdler on our team. With such average talent I was forced to do all the events I could. At any given meet I would run the high hurdles, intermediate hurdles, high jump, pole vault, and run the relays. As I listened to Coach Carnes encourage me to keep up the good work I could not help wonder what he saw in me.
Before we got off the phone that night he did say that he thought that I could be good at the Decathlon. Honestly, I had never heard of the Decathlon and probably thought he was talking about making me the team manager. Coach Carnes said that if I would try this strange event he would get me in school in Gainesville. That sounded like the deal for me.
My senior year I barely missed the cut to qualify as a high hurdler at the USA Junior Championship meet being held that summer in Knoxville, Tennessee. However, an advertisement in Track and Field news stated; “Decathlon – All entries accepted”. Wow… I was headed to Knoxville and to show Coach Carnes that I could be what he wanted me to be…. I just had to find out what the Decathlon was! There was no internet back then, the school library was closed, and our small town did not have a book store. My math teacher told me that ‘deca’ meant ten (10) so I guessed that it was a combination of running, jumping, and throwing. My high school coach lended me a shot putt and a discus to practice with even though I had technically graduated and was out of school. I ran every day on the golf course since the high school track was closed for the vacation months. I had no idea how far the distances were so I just sprinted between the greens until I was dizzy and walked back to repeat the effort. I figured Coach Carnes would approve of my hard work. I was determined to my best for him since he was the only college coach that called me!
I cut grass in the mornings around my neighborhood and sold mangoes from a wheel barrow in the afternoons so that I could earn enough money to go compete in the Decathlon in Knoxville. Tennessee. I had no clue how to get to the meet but since none of my friends had cars which could make it that far and hitch hiking was too unreliable I decide to fly. I knew if I asked my parents they would probably say no and if I called Coach Carnes he might not remember who I was. Regardless, on the exact day the entry form I mailed in from Track and Field News stated I gathered up my suitcase and headed to the airport on my bicycle. I had never flown on a plane and of course we had to change flights in Atlanta even back then. Thank goodness I sat beside a javelin thrower from Louisiana who was headed to Knoxville on the last leg of my journey. Greg Barrow was the top thrower in the country and I was stunned when he told me that the javelin was one of the events in the Decathlon. There was no javelin event in Florida High School track so I had to learn quickly. Not only did Greg promise me a 24 hour education on the art of spear throwing he also let me stay in his hotel room as I had no reservations.
The Decathlon started the very next day. I showed up bright and early wearing my high school uniform only to see that most of the other guys were college freshman under 20 years old. One fellow from Auburn (John Cecil) told me that Coach Carnes was at the meet. This fired my passion as I progressed from event to event. I wanted to show him that I was worthy of his respect. My only pair of shoes took a beating but served me well. After the first day I was tired but somehow managed to do ‘personal bests’ in 4 of the first 5 events. However, I still had not met Coach Carnes in living flesh.
The second day started with my torched lungs and sore legs almost unable to carry me across the street from the hotel to the new Tartan track. It did not start well when I ran a ‘personal worse’ in the hurdles. That ended my dream of running the high hurdles for the University of Florida. A second new friend saved the day for me when we got to the pole vault. Edgardo Rivera the Olympian from Puerto Rico was studying at Tennessee, and although he was too old to compete as a Junior he came out to the meet to watch. Of course I did not own a pole vaulting pole so he lended me one of his from the locker room. Had he known I was trying to become a Gator and not a Volunteer he may have charged me a rental fee. I jumped the best of my life that day and even had illusions that I would become a vaulter in case this Decathlon thing failed. By the end of the meet I had done fairly well and became a High School All American finishing only behind Vince Riley (The High School World record holder).
I flew home with a medal in my pocket. My parents were not sure where it came from. Suddenly the scholarship offers started pouring in and for a few weeks I thought that I might forego Coach Carnes offer to come to Gainesville in exchange for Los Angles, Bloomington, Eugene, or another distant land. It wasn’t until my father asked me; “who do you think is the best coach in the country?” At that exact moment I made up my mind where to go to college. I called Coach Carnes to inform him that I wanted to wear blue and orange. To my astonishment he informed me that I had waited so late to get back to him that he had given all the scholarship money out except for $50 dollars for books. He was very sincere in saying that if I would accept it he would work to get me more in the future. I immediately signed the paper he sent me but could not start school until January. I was the last athlete Coach Carnes signed.
In Gainesville I lived with my Grandparents since I was not actually in school and not eligible for a dorm room; nor could I have afforded it. Still I reported to the track every day that fall to train under the great Jimmy Carnes. That was a lesson in life. As so many of us know Coach Carnes ran his team like a business. Everything was on time, on schedule, and calculated down to the smallest detail. Each assistant coach new his assignments and the team was proud to be led by such a caring head coach.
I had a very difficult time trying to explain to the other athletes that I was not in school yet but that Coach Carnes was working on it. I dared not admit that I was brought in for $50 dollars. One day Coach Carnes called me off to the side to tell me that he would be leaving his position to pursue private business ventures. I was not the first to learn this but I never doubted his wisdom. He promised me that he would get me in school even if he had to walk my papers over to the registrar office and plead my case himself. He must have done just that because my grades were certainly short of the acceptance level. Coach Carnes, in his typical ‘focus on wining way’, did advise me that if I waited to start school until I was 26 years old I could probably become the national champion. There was no doubt that he wanted the best for me then and always did. Coach Carnes wanted all his athletes to be winners; both on and off the track.
As the years passed I never let my contact with him faulter. He continued to encourage me and his door was always open to for me. I thought that I was special but in reality every single one of his athletes was important to him. I was just an average kid who bought into his dream for the last $50 dollars he gave out as a scholarship. I can say without hesitation that it was the best deal I every made in my life. Friendship with Coach Carnes was priceless and eternal!